The Jealousy of the Leaders Part 1 of 8
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
After Pentecost, the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ spread rapidly in Jerusalem as Spirit-empowered witnesses shared the Gospel with the lost.
November 21, 2013
Acts of the Apostles
Lesson II.D.2.b: The Jealousy of the Leaders (5:17-42)
After Pentecost, the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ spread rapidly in Jerusalem as Spirit-empowered witnesses shared the Gospel with the lost. Signs and wonders accompanied the preaching of the Word and no one could deny that God was at work in a new way among His ancient people.
But not everyone was happy with the success of the Church. The religious establishment that had opposed the ministry of Jesus, and then crucified Him, took the same hostile approach toward the Apostles. Jesus told His Apostles, “Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15.20). He also told them, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (John 16.2). His words were beginning to be fulfilled.
It was the age-old conflict between living truth and dead tradition. The new wine could not be put into the old wineskins, nor could the new cloth be sewn on the worn-out garments (Matt, 9.14-17). The English martyr Hugh Latimer said, “Whenever you see persecution, there is more than a probability that truth is on the persecuted side.”
17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the secti of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,
18 And laid their hands on the Apostles, and put them in the common prison.
We are still dealing with the first things of the Christian Church, and now we have come to the first substantial persecution. We can see the forces opposed to Christianity, gaining courage, but it is the courage of desperation. It is easy to understand why the Sadducees launched another drive to restrain the ministry of the Apostles in the Temple area. Actually, they had five reasons for arresting the Apostles:
1. Peter and John had not obeyed the official orders to stop preaching in the name of Jesus Christ. They were guilty of defying the law of the Jewish nation.
2. The witness of the Church was refuting the doctrines held by the Sadducees, giving evidence that Jesus Christ was still alive.
3. The religious leaders were filled with envy (“indignation”) at the great success of these uneducated, untrained, and unauthorized men (Matt. 27.181; Acts 13.452). The traditions of the fathers had not attracted that much attention or gained that many followers in such a short time. It is amazing how much envy can be hidden under the disguise of “defending the faith.”
4. The healing power of Peter had attracted too much attention, and a threat of a popular disturbance loomed above the horizon. The Sadducees saw that they must take some sort of action, and take it quickly.
5. The multitudes came to hear the Apostles preach and to have their sick folks miraculously healed. The healings and miracles wrought by the Apostles gave them tremendous popularity and prestige in Jerusalem, and so enraged the religious leaders and filled them with indignation that they “rose up” in opposition to these men of God. The situation was similar to that following the resuscitation of Lazarus (John 11.47-53) when the leaders could either believe—which they would not do—or decide to take desperate measures involving violence, despite the danger from the mob (common people).
“The high priest rose up, and all they that were with him” includes not only the high priest and his relatives, but also the leaders of the Sadducees—in other words, all the Jewish religious authorities and rulers.
“Which is the sect of the Sadducees.” The Sadducees were a very powerful group—as we will see in verse 21 of this chapter. They had the power to bring the Apostles to trial and to mete out any punishment they decided upon. History assures us that the Sadducees also had the rich people on their side. It is not clear in the Scripture that Annas (high priest at that time) was a Sadducee, But Josephus in his book on Bible antiquity declares that the son of Annas was of that sect, and there is a possibility that Annas also was a Sadducee.
Of course, the Apostles declared that the bodily resurrection of Jesus proved that He is the Son of God; and since the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and life after death, they hated such a message and “were filled with indignation” against the Apostles.
The Greek word used here to express such a deep feeling of indignation could also be rendered “jealousy.” The Sadducees were actually filled with envy and jealousy because of the rapid growth of this New Testament Church through the preaching of the message of the Lord Jesus Christ—His death, burial, and resurrection. Believers were being added to the Church by thousands (Acts 2.413; 4.44), and the rapid growth of the little group who came down from the Upper Room at Pentecost angered the Sadducees.
Therefore they “laid their hands on the Apostles, and put them in the common prison.” This fact is proof that all the Apostles were preachers and teachers. We read primarily of the messages delivered by Peter, occasionally John is mentioned, but this statement in verse 18 leads us to believe that they were all busy preaching and teaching just as fervently as Peter and John preached and taught.
Verse 28 is a statement which gives us an idea of the general state of affairs in Jerusalem at that time. From the standpoint of the opposition, it was surely a remark they wish they could have taken back. I wonder if the high priest would have said what he did to that little band of men arraigned before him, if he would have known that his words would be preserved for all time. He said to them: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name . . . Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." This was a very remarkable admission of the growth of Christianity in Jerusalem at that time. It shows the profound effect it was having on the city—“you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." This was a revelation of the fact that the testimony and teaching of the Apostles were turning public opinion against the religious leaders because of their role in the death of Christ.
This second encounter of the Apostles with the Sadducees was very similar to the first. Some think the story is a duplicate of Chapter 4, but there are enough differences between the two accounts to indicate a second arrest. Previously, Peter and John were the only Apostles put in prison, but here all the Apostles were arrested and put in prison. We also observe that the reaction of the Sadducees is more violent in this episode, so violent that they wanted to kill the Apostles. There is an escape from prison in this account which is not present in Chapter 4. There is no mention of punishment from the Sadducees in the previous confrontation; but in Chapter 5 the Apostle’s sentence is the customary 39 lashes with a whip. Furthermore, we notice that the Pharisees are strategically drawn into the decision of this council. It was the Pharisees who had led in the persecution against Jesus, but it was the Sadducees who led in the persecution of the early Church.
19 But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,
20 Go, stand and speak in the Temple to the people all the words of this life.
Here was a direct protest by Jehovah God against the actions of the Sadducees in confining the apostles in prison. The Sadducees taught that there was neither spirit nor angel—so God sent an angel by night to open the prison doors and set His servants free! I believe “an angel” is the correct translation, rather than “the angel” as it is rendered here. In the Old Testament the angel of the Lord was the pre-incarnate Christ, but now Christ is the Man in heaven at God’s right hand, and He is the one directing the activity of His apostles. Today, unfortunately, much of the time His hands and His feet are paralyzed because the people in the Church are not working for Him in this world. Jesus Christ wants to work through His church. He wants to work through you and me, if we will permit Him. This is not Christ who appeared here, it was an angel. God takes care of His own. In Acts 16.25-28, He released Paul and Silas by sending an earthquake to open the prison doors and loose the bands of the prisoners. In Acts 12.5-11, He sent an angel to rescue Peter from between two guards where he was bound after Herod imprisoned him. And in our present study “the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors,” and brought the apostles forth—but He did more than just deliver them from prison: He instructed them to return to the Temple, to the very place where they had been arrested,“ and speak in the Temple to the people ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LIFE” (This is an unusual way to refer to the Gospel.). It was no small assignment to go directly back to the place where the opposition was the hottest and begin again teaching the same message.